Marcus Clarke and Thomas Nevin at the Old Bell Hotel 1870

MARCUS CLARKE in Hobart, Tasmania 1874
THE OLD BELL HOTEL Elizabeth St. Hobart
THOMAS NEVIN’s STUDIO 140 Elizabeth St. Hobart

State Library of Victoria
Title: Portrait photograph of Marcus Clarke in riding gear [picture].
Date(s): ca. 1866 [unattributed]
Description: 1 photographic print on carte de visite mount : albumen silver ; 10.3 x 6.3 cm.
Identifier(s): Accession no(s) H2011.89

Marcus Clarke at the Old Bell Hotel
In January 1920, the Old Bell Hotel in Elizabeth St. Hobart closed its doors for the last time. This notice repeated the story that Marcus Clarke had written parts of his famous novel For The Term of His Natural Life (1874) while imbibing in the bar.


Eight hotels delicensed recently by the Hobart Licensing Court closed their doors last night. One is the Old Bell, where Marcus Clarke is supposed to have written a portion of his famous novel, “For the Term of His Natural Life.”

Source: HOBART HOTELS CLOSED. (1920, January 2). Daily Herald (Adelaide, SA : 1910 – 1924), p. 4. Retrieved September 21, 2014, from

By November 1921, plans were in place to demolish the hotel and in its place erect a two storey building renamed Old Bell Chambers housing a suite of shops and offices and a motor garage at rear, according to this report:


The demolition of another of the oldest public-houses in Hobart, known as the Old Bell Inn from the very early days of Hobart Town (as the city used to be called until comparatively recent years) is in progress, to make wav for new business premises, which will be styled “Old Bell Chambers”. The most historic, and probably most interesting, reminiscence associated with the old building is the fact that Marcus Clarke is believed to have written his famous story, “For the Term of His Natural Life,” in the main parlour of the inn. Though doubt is often cast on the possibility of this being actually true, owing to the author’s reputedly short sojourn in Australia, it is more than probable that the original notes on which his narrative was framed at leisure were penned in the inn parlour on his return from a visit to the penal settlement at Eaglehawk Neck and Port Arthur. The site has a frontage on Elizabeth Street of 50 feet, widening to 70 feet at a depth of about 150 feet. The ground floor of the front portion will be occupied by shops, with suites of offices on the first floor, approached  by a stair-way leading direct from Elizabeth-street, and isolated from the shops by means of a reinforced concrete wall. The rear portion of the site will be occupied by a spacious motor garage, accessible by a right-of-way from Elizabeth-street The tender of Mr. A P McElwee has been accepted for the erection of the building, which will be carried out from the design prepared bv the architect, Mr R W Koch, who will supervise tho construction.

Source: THE “OLD BELL” INN. (1921, November 4). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved October 23, 2014, from

As it seems that Thomas Nevin was partial to a drink, inebriation being the chief reason he was dismissed by the Police Committee from his position of Town Hall keeper in December 1880, the Old Bell Hotel would have been one of his preferred watering holes. The closest, however, was The Royal Standard Hotel located right next door to his studio, situated at 142 Elizabeth St on the corner of Patrick St, owned and operated by James Spence from 1862 to 1874.

Thomas Nevin was still alive in 1920 (d. 1923) when the hotel, known as the Old Bell, was delicensed, so he may have contributed to this story that Marcus Clarke drank there while writing his famous novel, published in installments from 1870 after a visit to the derelict prison at Port Arthur on the Tasman Peninsula. Marcus Clarke was a heavy drinker, a sufferer of dyspepsia and a disordered liver, dying at just 35 years old (1846-1881), whereas Thomas Nevin (1842-1923) was a Wesleyan who not only proved immune to the illnesses which beset his other family members on the voyage out on the Fairlie (1852), he lived to the distinguished age of 81 yrs, his beard still red and his eyes still clear. according to his grand children Eva and Hilda – children of his youngest son Albert and wife Emily Nevin – who were five and three yr olds, born 1917 and 1919 respectively, and who were still alive when this weblog went online in 2003.

Views of the Old Bell Hotel
The Old Bell Hotel (or Inn) was located at 132 Elizabeth Street, in one photograph, a streetscape ca. 1890, and at 146 Elizabeth St. in another photograph of the facade. In either case, it was just three doors from Thomas Nevin’s studio, The City Photographic Establishment, his glass house and residence at 138-140 Elizabeth Street, Hobart, and on the same side of the street. Thomas Nevin acquired the business and premises from Alfred Bock in 1865, operating in the name of Nevin & Smith until 1868 with Robert Smith’s departure for NSW and continued as a commercial photographer at the same premises until late 1875 when he was appointed to the civil service at the Hobart Town Hall with residency.

When Thomas Nevin took these two stereographs of his studio and shop front at 140 Elizabeth St. Hobart, shown at extreme right of the frame, the Old Bell Hotel would have been located at 132 Elizabeth St, just at the crest as the street dipped towards the River Derwent and visible at the distant perspectival centre in each frame. According to Alfred Bock’s advertisement for an apprentice in 1863, the address of the City Photographic Establishment, 140 Elizabeth St. was “Three doors from Patrick-street, Hobart Town …” .

Source: The Mercury, 7 July 1863.
The City Photographic Establishment at 140 Elizabeth St “Three doors from Patrick-street
Alfred Bock’s new gallery was actually a glass house.

A view of Thomas Nevin’s studio and shop, extreme right of frame, 140 Elizabeth St. Hobart
Stereograph by T. J. Nevin ca. 1867-70 of the City Photographic Establishment
The dark building next door at 138 Elizabeth St, Nevin’s residence, was leased from A. E. Biggs
T. Nevin impress on lower centre of mount.
The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery Collection TMAG Ref: Q1994.56.12

Another view of Thomas Nevin’s studio and shop, extreme right of frame, at 140 Elizabeth St. Hobart
The dark building next door at 138 Elizabeth St, Nevin’s residence, was leased from A. E. Biggs
Stereograph by T. J. Nevin ca. 1867-1870 of the City Photographic Establishment, three doors from Patrick St,
TMAG Ref: Q1994-56-33 Verso blank

This photograph (below, right click for large view) distinctly shows The Old Bell Hotel on the right hand side of Elizabeth St. if one is looking towards the wharves, with the address as No.132 Elizabeth St.

Title: Photograph – Elizabeth Street looking south (Brisbane Street) – Bridges Bros and The Bell Hotel at number 132
Description: 1 photographic print
Format: Photograph
ADRI: NS1013-1-820
Source: Archives Office of Tasmania

But this photograph shows the Old Bell at 146 Elizabeth St, Hobart:

Source: TAHO Ref:PH40-1-93c

Title: Photograph – “Old Bell Hotel”, Hobart – interior of bar [n.d.]
Description: 1 photographic print
Format: Photograph
ADRI: PH40-1-94
Source: Archives Office of Tasmania

When the photograph (below, top left) was taken of three boys standing outside the Old Bell Hotel, the authors of this article published in the Mercury Supplement series Cheers! on Hobart’s hotels in 2005 stated that the hotel’s address by then was 146 to 150 Elizabeth St. Hobart.

The Old Bell Hotel at what is now 146-150 Elizabeth t. Hobart
J. V. Peck licensee; the property at Nos 136-140 in his wife’s name Catherine Peck by 1886
Source: Mercury Supplement Cheers, Friday August 26, 2005
Photo copyright © KLW NFC 2019 Private Collection

Marcus Clarke’s sources
If the story about the Old Bell is factual, propinquity alone would have brought Thomas Nevin and Marcus Clarke together, and to their mutual satisfaction, given the journalistic background of John Nevin snr, Thomas’ father, and Thomas Nevin’s involvement with photographing the prisoner and ex-prisoner population. The Nevins would have given Marcus Clarke a ready source of information regarding police and prisoners at the Hobart Gaol one street away from the Old Bell Hotel. Thomas Nevin may have introduced Marcus Clarke to William Robert Giblin, Thomas Nevin’s family solicitor, who was the Attorney-General and later, Premier, and he may have also introduced Marcus Clarke to Maria Nairn, the widow of William Edward Nairn, sheriff of Hobart from 1857 until his death in 1868. Maria Nairn had leased an acre of land to John Nevin, next to the Franklin Museum at Kangaroo Valley, not far from Clarke’s lodgings. These prototypes served Marcus Clarke’s fiction, along with the officials “of position” who allowed him to view prison records at Hobart, Town on his request:

When at Hobart Town I had asked an official of position to allow me to see the records, and – in consideration of the Peacock – he was obliging enough to do so. There I found set down, in various handwritings, the history of some strange lives… and glancing down the list, spotted with red ink for floggings, like a well printed prayer-book …

Source: Marcus Clarke, THE SKETCHER. (1873, August 2). The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 – 1946), p. 5. Retrieved September 21, 2014, from

THE LAST HOPE.Book III, Chapter XIII (page 290)
Image taken from Marcus Clarke, For the Term of his Natural Life
WL Crowther Library,
State Library of Tasmania
Source: Colonialism and its Aftermath

The Preface
Marcus Clarke’s Preface to His Natural Life,
First Published: 1870. Source:

The convict of fiction has been hitherto shown only at the beginning or at the end of his career. Either his exile has been the mysterious end to his misdeeds, or he has appeared upon the scene to claim interest by reason of an equally unintelligible love of crime acquired during his experience in a penal settlement.
Charles Reade has drawn the interior of a house of correction in England, and Victor Hugo has shown how a French convict fares after the fulfilment of his sentence. But no writer — so far as I am aware — has attempted to depict the dismal condition of a felon during his term of transportation.
I have endeavoured in “His Natural Life” to set forth the working and results of an English system of transportation carefully considered and carried out under official supervision; and to illustrate in the manner best calculated, as I think, to attract general attention, the inexpediency of again allowing offenders against the law to be herded together in places remote from the wholesome influence of public opinion, and to be submitted to a discipline which must necessarily depend for its just administration upon the personal character and temper of their gaolers.
Some of the events narrated are doubtless tragic and terrible; but I hold it needful to my purpose to record them, for they are events which have actually occurred, and which, if the blunders which produce them be repeated, must infallibly occur again. It is true that the British Government have ceased to deport the criminals of England, but the method of punishment, of which that deportation was a part, is still in existence. Port Blair is a Port Arthur filled with Indian-men instead of Englishmen; and, within the last year, France has established, at New Caledonia, a penal settlement which will, in the natural course of things, repeat in its annals the history of Macquarie Harbour and of Norfolk Island.

Watch The Movie (1929)
Watch the full version here at YouTube –